missional

The Reluctant Missionary

When my wife Emily and I moved to Mexico, I self-identified as a reluctant missionary; God called us to the mission field, but I didn’t go singing like one of the astronauts in the movie Armageddon. Since then I’ve sweat more than I thought possible. And much of what I was reluctant about, I’ve navigated with forward momentum. Sure, I’ve bumped my head a few times, even caught it on fire, stalled a van full of mission trip guests roughly eight times in one outing and now have the language capacity of a 3-year-old with a speech impediment, but things are good.

The Lord has helped us make sense of a lot in eight months. We’ve learned a lot about each other, our marriage, his mission, and Mexican traffic patterns. Over and against all these, though, he’s taught me the most about my reluctance as a missionary.

I only want Grace to write a dramatic, perfect sentence in my story. I don’t want to relinquish the whole narrative.

At its core, my reluctance wasn’t about language barriers, selling my truck, or an inordinate amount of sweating. It wasn’t about disputed dreams. Sure, those things were there. But at its core, my reluctance fundamentally was about Grace.

Grace is scary.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes about a woman who gets her heart around grace. She realized if she could earn Grace, she can demand of it. If she can crowbar Gods love, then God is in the hot-seat. She’s paid her tax and got skin in the game, so God needs to ante up. But, if God loves us, saves us, by grace—due to nothing on our end—then there’s nothing he can not ask from us.

If you’re like me, that’s comforting at first, but immediately terrifying.

I want Grace, but, if I’m honest, I only want a kind of Grace that steps in to rescue, but then leaves me alone. I only want Grace to write a dramatic, perfect sentence in my story. I don’t want to relinquish the whole narrative.

But Grace doesn’t co-author.

That was my predicament: I wanted a sentence about grace, but God pens entire stories with it. And when your story is penned by Grace, it means your story is not about you. Grace is so scandalous that it enters your story without permission. And, Grace is so scandalous it will send you into others’ stories without permission.

I’ve learned grace not only saves; grace sends. And grace sends wherever grace saves, which, again, makes us uncomfortable.

Grace goes “far as the curse is found.” Grace goes and sends us into every nook-and-cranny of the world that’s been warped, desecrated, and bothered by sin, selfishness, and stupidity.

The Ordinariness of Grace

Grace isn’t shaped or stopped by geography, class, race, intellectual status, plausibility structures, income level, or click-bait. Grace isn’t skeptical, which means it walks up to whoever it walks up to and says, “Follow me.”

And grace doesn’t only send cross-culturally. For most, grace won’t send you farther away than family, friends, neighbors, school, though, it very well might. But it will send you deeper into those people and places. Grace is extravagant, but grace dwells in the everyday.

Grace sends us into the extravagance of the everyday, which is the hardest place. Because it’s in the everyday that we’ve grown accustomed to “this is just the way things are.” But grace isn’t content with “the way things are.” Grace won’t be content until things are “the way they ought to be.” Grace hears through the white-noise of life. Grace hears and sees the vulnerable, the overlooked, the unjust, the crooked, the condemned, and the mistreated who’ve faded into the everydayness of our lives. And grace sends us there.

Things might be a tad more dramatic, at times, for the cross-cultural missionary, but no matter where it’s the same rhythms of relationship, trust, conversations, patience, prayer, and more patience that are part of the “sent” life anywhere.

Because we’re saved by grace, there’s nothing it cannot ask of us.

Grace scares us from the comfortable, predictable stories we want.

Even death looked at Grace and said, “You’re too much for me.”

The Stubbornness of Grace

Grace is stubborn, like a hurricane. You can board up the windows of your heart and stack sandbags around your story, but it’s a losing battle. Grace will out stubborn you, every time.

When Grace comes and we hear the shutters of our stories crack against the walls of our hearts, our knee-jerk reaction is to hide. We scramble to grab whatever vestiges of our personal narratives we can salvage and batten down the hatches. But what sounds devastating and scary and brutal isn’t the sound of destruction. It’s the sound of a new story.

Grace isn’t a bully. It’s as stubborn as a hurricane, but it’s as careful, intimate, and personal as a good storyteller.

At first, it seems like an arrogant actor, shoving your carefully crafted script back in your face. But Grace isn’t an actor in your little narrative; it’s the director. And your script isn’t being shoved back at you.

Rather, you’re being offered a part and invitation into a story not less than yours, but so much bigger.

It’s a story you may know nothing about, but you’ve always wanted. It’s a story more ancient than the cosmo and more new than morning dew.

It’s a story that knows the depths of human suffering and the astronomical heights of joy. It’s a story as everyday as grocery shopping and as outrageous as climbing Everest.

It’s a story that knows the pangs of division, racism, and human brutality, but glories in reconciliation and resurrection. It knows the powerful may appear to have all the cards, but the meek shall inherit the earth. It’s a scary, foolish, subversive story, and is full of surprises.

I’ve seen Grace take a young boy isolated in hardened, confused fear and change him into a team player on the soccer field. I’ve seen grace use bunk-beds to remind a mom her kids have a Father who cares for and sees them.

I’ve seen Grace take a sewing class and make it ground zero of empowerment and dreaming in an impoverished community. I’ve seen Grace take a five-year old’s ashamed, rotten smile and give him the biggest set of chompers you’ll ever see.

I’ve seen Grace give a young girl new life in Christ the same week she welcomed a new baby brother. I’ve seen a young boy with special needs have the best day of his life carting around a stalk of plantains.

I’ve seen Grace transform a young girl from someone who thought she’d never get through high school to someone who was signing up for her first university class.

The Surprise of Grace

But Grace was here long before we were and Grace will be here long after we’re gone. Truth is that Grace surprises people everywhere everyday. And these surprising narrative twists happen in-between the hard and dark plot points.

But that is the point. Grace isn’t writing a clean, tidy, white-washed, quarantined story that’ll drop out of the sky one day. It’s an inside job.

The story of Grace is mysterious and transcendent, but it knows the dust of the earth. Grace knows of a world where life, justice, and beauty flourish all the live long day and Grace put on flesh to bring it here.

Grace came from the extravagance of Heaven into the everydayness of Earth. And Grace knows the depth of a tomb so we can know the heights of the Kingdom. I’ve learned that Grace scares us from the stories we want, and surprises us with stories we could never ask for, nor imagine.

So, wherever Grace sends you today—a college classroom, an office, a newborn’s crib, a bus stop, a funeral, a doctor’s office, a community center, a hard conversation, an urban elementary school, a church building, a grocery store, a nursing home know this: Grace will not send you where it will not surprise you.

And that’s good news.

Ben and Emily Riggs serve in Cancun, Mexico, on staff with Back2Back Ministries, where they seek to protect and restore vulnerable children and strengthen at-risk families. Prior to that he served as Director of Storytelling for Apex Community Church. Ben blogs at Logline and writes for Back2Back

Missional Lessons for the Holidays

GOD CREATED HOLIDAYS

Cultural celebrations are not man-made institutions. Like much of God’s creation, holidays can be—and have been—distorted for all sorts of less-than-holy purposes. But what if “Santa” really isn’t an anagram for “Satan”? What if we can we redeem this holiday season, and use it for God’s work?

Seen throughout the Old Testament, and most clearly in Leviticus 23, God commanded His people to pause several times each year, simply to feast and celebrate. Here are far-too-brief summaries of Old Testament Israel’s national holidays:

  • The Festival of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) kicked off the Jewish New Year with the blast of a ram’s horn. God’s people gathered as one, as Israel kicked off each year with ten days of feasting, celebrating God, and ceasing work to rest in Him.
  • The Day of Atonement was an annual reminder of Israel’s sin and God’s forgiveness. In a solemn service on the most important day of the Jewish year, one ram was killed as a symbol of appeasing God’s wrath, as another symbolized  God’s removal of sin, being sent into the wilderness never to return.
  • The Feast of Booths saw Israel praying for her upcoming harvest. To visibly recall God’s past deliverance from Egypt, they lived in tents for a week. As they then returned to their homes—seventeen days in total after gathering for Rosh Hashanah—they celebrated God’s gift of their permanent dwellings, symbolic of His giving them the Promised Land.
  • Passover remembers the biggest event in Israel’s history: God’s original rescue of His people, in His plaguing power over Egypt. Israel sacrificed and roasted a lamb, and still tangibly recall God’s work through readings, foods, and glasses of wine.
  • Passover kicked off the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days, Israel recalled the speed with which their ancestors fled Egypt the night of the original Passover.
  • The First Fruits Offering marked the beginning of the harvest. A day of thanksgiving, the celebration included offering Israel’s best produce to God, and recalling God’s power and grace in sustaining and providing for His people.
  • The Feast of Weeks (called Pentecost) again pointed to God’s provision. Another offering made; more feasts occurred; more thanks shared—this time at the end of the wheat harvest.

LESSONS FROM THE STORY OF ISRAEL

This is more than a bit of Jewish history. Each feast foreshadows God’s work in Jesus’ death and resurrection. These celebrations were celebrated by Jews for centuries and by Jesus Himself. And they inform our own celebrations:

First, Leviticus shows that God instituted intentional celebration into the annual rhythm of His people. God’s people ceased from work and partied. They cooked meat—a luxury in those days—and enjoyed good drink. They made music, relaxed, and played together. They laughed and grieved together. Celebrations are right and good.

Celebrations also cut to the heart of mission: God’s people didn’t celebrate by themselves. They included those around them. Even people with different beliefs. Consider this instruction: “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.” This idea echoes through the Old Testament Law: “sojourners” were foreigners in Israel who joined the feasts; “servants” from various nations celebrated with God’s people; “strangers” and “aliens” weren’t Israelites but joined their events.

A final Levitical lesson is that people, events, and even milestones themselves were never the focus of Israel’s celebrations. Israel celebrated one thing, in many ways throughout each year: God. They didn’t celebrate grain; they celebrated the Giver of that grain. They didn’t celebrate their power over Pharaoh; they had no such power! They celebrated God’s power. These lessons combine to show us not only that not-yet-believers were invited to Israel’s feasts; they observed—and in ways, even participated—as God’s people celebrated God, on days God created for just that occasion.

REDEEMING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

If Israel—geographically set apart from the rest of the world—publicly celebrated God in the midst of strangers, foreigners, and sojourners, there’s hope for us as we consider holidays. Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25, and God didn’t invent Halloween or Thanksgiving. But these and other annual days have been carved into our culture, to cease work, celebrate, and engage others. Gifts abound in December, giving us an easy chance to surprise coworkers and classmates with cookies or a brief note. And the world still rings in the New Year with gatherings and far more pomp than Israel’s trumpet blast.

Instead of celebrating this Christmas season, New Years Eve, and other occasions alone or with just-Christian friends—and instead of creating “Christian” versions of special events already happening in our city and neighborhood— let’s celebrate these occasions on mission. Let’s display the gospel through generosity, grace, conversation, and joy. And let’s declare the gospel through stories, toasts, and prayers. Sure, many cultural celebrations have long forgotten God. But we haven’t, and we’ve been sent to those who have. God is sovereign, even the fact that someone declared certain days holidays. God uses even the most broken things—and days—for His mission. How can we do the same?

Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.

(Editor’s Note: Used with permission from the authors. This is adapted from A Field Guide for Everyday Mission by Ben Connelly & Bob Roberts Jr. available from Moody Publishers. )

What Do We Mean By “Missional Living”?

When we look at the missional life of the disciples, it’s tempting to think the work they did in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and engaging in the works of the kingdom were only done with Jesus. And while there is truth in the with, there was a much greater reality present in their time with the Rabbi. More accurately, the apostles were being led into mission. Jesus said as much, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Following Jesus was prerequisite to mission with him. And while the disciples ministered alongside Jesus in many settings, all the while, they had actually been led into God-­appointed missional ventures by the God­man.

While missional living could be described as something the church does with Jesus as well, it is more appropriately something the church follows him into. As we step out in faith to be a “city on a hill,” we must remind ourselves that Jesus is already at work and we are to join him in the work he has already begun to do in our cities. And in the times we live, we need to take special care to discern the time as “men of Issachar” so that the mission we are being led into is at its most potent.

Here are four ways that the local church can follow Jesus into missional living in the twenty-first century:

1. Following Jesus Into (And Out From) Worship

All missional living starts with worship and leads to more worship, both personally and corporately. Just as faith without works is dead, good works separated from active trust in the person and work of Jesus, is also dead. Entering into the mission of Jesus requires that we first enter into his rest . . . receiving his easy yoke and light burden of grace. To help cultivate this mindset, we will:

  • Encourage our people to see that the only way to become like Jesus is to prioritize being with Jesus daily. Ordinary, common spiritual practices like Bible reading, prayer, and “one-anothering” community are at the center of this. Apart from (Jesus) we can do nothing.
  • Emphasize worshiping God with God’s other daughters and sons each Lord’s Day—encouraging our people to order the rest of their lives around worship, versus the other way around. Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.

2. Following Jesus Into The World Through Public Faith

We are called by Jesus to follow him into the world as an expression of our worship. As carriers of heaven’s DNA and the aroma of Jesus in his world, we want to carry his grace, truth, and beauty into all the places where we live, work, and play–primarily through:

  • Public forums and conversations (some church sponsored and others in living rooms and public spaces) about things that matter to us and to friends and neighbors who do not believe as we do. Subjects like sexuality, race and class issues, family-related concerns, the arts, politics, and loneliness are a few examples of subject matter. As some of your own poets have said . . .
  • Loving friends and neighbors well. Being intentional, thoughtful, and creative about being the “first responders” wherever opportunities to extend the kindness, love, support, and hope that Jesus did to people who were hurting, lonely and alone, and feeling ashamed. Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Parties. Showing hospitality and giving life away by opening up our church, our homes, and our lives in order to turn strangers into friends, and friends into family. We have to celebrate.

3. Following Jesus Into The World Through The Integration Of Faith and Work

Because so many people spend the majority of their waking hours working—whether as a volunteer or for hire—it is important to see vocation as a calling from God and the workplace as a primary realm for following Jesus and loving the world. We express these truths by:

  • Affirming that all creative work–work that takes raw material and makes something new for the benefit of the world and the human community—is an expression of God’s creativity through people who bear his image. God created . . . and it was good.
  • Affirming that all redemptive work—work that fights decay and seeks restoration of people, places, and things—is an expression of God’s redeeming grace, also through people who bear his image. All creation groans . . . eagerly awaiting freedom. Jesus is making all things new.

4. Following Jesus Into The World Through Mercy and Justice

Because the poor in spirit are called “blessed,” and because Jesus gave special attention to the poor, the weak, the under-served, the overlooked, and those living on the margins, the church must dedicate her time, energy, service, and a significant portion of her financial resources to mercy and justice efforts. We will do this by:

  • Emphasizing in our public ministry the importance of the poor, the weak, the overlooked, and the under-served in the economy of God’s kingdom.
  • Creating intentional, supportive space in our community for children and adults with special needs.
  • Forming partnerships and providing financial support to our cities “best in class” mercy and justice organizations.

* * * *

While there are many ways to live missional in our cities, these in particular have an eye and ear towards the age we live in. They place the onus on our churches to collaborate with culture rather than cede from it. The hope is that as we pursue this kind of missional living, our churches will, in the power of the Spirit, make Jesus, as Ray Ortlund has said, “non-­ignorable in our cities.”

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls.

Brad Andrews serves as pastor for preaching, vision, and missional leadership at Mercyview in Tulsa, OK and as a religion columnist for the former Urban Tulsa Weekly. He also was one of the ten framers of The Missional Manifesto, alongside Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Alan Hirsch, Eric Mason, J.D. Greear, Dan Kimball, Linda Berquist, Craig Ott, and Philip Nation. He blogs often at mercyview.com/blog.

Adapted from www.scottsauls.com. Used with permission. Brad Andrews contributed the introduction and conclusion.

Making the Most of Turkey Time: Thanksgiving on Mission

What if God had more for our kin this Thanksgiving than the Macy’s parade, tryptophan-induced naps, and NFL football? What if we saw our gatherings with extended family not as a chance to check out, but as an opportunity for Christian mission? It should be good news to us that we don’t have to be Jedi-master evangelists to be agents of gospel advance among those whom we know best. In fact, it may be better if we’re not.

So before bellying up to this year’s turkey feast, here’s a few thoughts from a fellow bungler to help us think ahead and pray about how we might grow in being proxies for the gospel, in word and deed, among our families this Thanksgiving. These are some practical ideas for what it might mean to see ourselves as sent among our relatives. These suggestions are inspired by Randy Newman’s excellent book Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.

Sent on Thanksgiving

1) Pray ahead.

Begin praying for your part in gospel advance among extended family several days before gathering. And let’s not just pray for changes in them, but also pray for the needed heart changes in us — whether it’s for love or courage or patience or kindness or fresh hope, or all of the above.

2) Listen and ask questions.

Listen, listen, listen. Perhaps more good evangelism than we realize starts not with speaking but with good listening. Getting to know someone well, and specifically applying the gospel to them, is huge in witness. Relationship matters.

Ask questions to draw them out. People like to talk about themselves — and we should capitalize on this. And most people only enjoy talking about themselves for so long. At some point, they’ll ask us questions. And that’s our golden chance to speak, upon request.

One of the best times to tell the gospel with clarity and particularity is when someone has just asked us a question. They want to hear from us. So let’s share ourselves, and Jesus in us. Not artificially, but in genuine answer to their asking about our lives. And remember it’s a conversation. Be careful not to rabbit on for too long, but try to keep a sense of equilibrium in the dialogue.

3) Raise the gospel flag early.

Let’s not wait to get to know them “well enough” to start clearly identifying with Jesus. Depending on how extended our family is, or how long it’s been since we married in, they may already plainly know that we are Christians. But if they don’t know that, or don’t know how important Jesus is to our everyday lives, we should realize now that there isn’t any good strategy in being coy about such vital information. It will backfire. Even if we don’t put on the evangelistic full-court press right away (which is not typically advised), wisdom is to identify with Jesus early and often, and articulate the gospel with clarity (and kindness) as soon as possible.

No one’s impressed to discover years into a relationship that we’ve withheld from them the most important things in our lives.

4) Take the long view and cultivate patience.

With family especially, we should consider the long arc. Randy Newman is not afraid to say to Christians in general, “You need a longer-term perspective when it comes to family.” Chances are we do. And so he challenges us to think in terms of an alphabet chart, seeing our family members positioned at some point from letters A to Z. These 26 steps/letters along the way from distant unbelief (A) to great nearness to Jesus (Z) and fledgling faith help us remember that evangelism is usually a process, and often a long one.

It is helpful to recognize that not everyone is near the end of the alphabet waiting for our pointed gospel pitch to tip them into the kingdom. Frequently there is much spadework to be done. Without losing the sense of urgency, let’s consider how we can move them a letter, or two or three, at a time and not jerk them toward Z in a way that may actually make them regress.

5) Beware the self-righteous older brother in you.

For those who grew up in nonbelieving or in shallow or nominal Christian families, it can be too easy to slide into playing the role of the self-righteous older brother when we return to be around our families. Let’s ask God that he would enable us to speak with humility and patience and grace. Let’s remember that we’re sinners daily in need of his grace, and not gallop through the family gathering on our high horse as if we’ve arrived or just came back from the third heaven. Newman’s advice: “use the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ far more than ‘you’” (65).

6) Tell it slant.

Some extended family contexts may be so far from spiritual that we need to till the soil of conversation before making many direct spiritual claims. It’s not that the statements aren’t true or desperately needed, but that our audience may not yet be ready to hear it. The gospel may seem so foreign that wisdom would have us take another approach. One strategy is to “tell it slant,” to borrow from the poem of the same name — to get at the gospel from an angle.

“If your family has a long history of negativity and sarcasm,” writes Newman, “the intermediate step of speaking positively about a good meal or a great film may pave the way for ‘blinding’ talk of God’s grace and mercy” (67). Don’t “blind” them by rushing to say loads more than they’re ready for. As Emily Dickinson says, “The truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”

7) Be real about the gospel.

As we dialogue with family about the gospel, let’s not default to quoting Bible verses that don’t really answer the questions being asked. Let’s take up the gospel in its accompanying worldview and engage their questions as much as possible in the terms in which they asked them. Newman says, “We need to find ways to articulate the internally consistent logic of the gospel’s claims and not resort to anti-intellectual punch lines like, ‘The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.’”

Yes, let’s do quote Bible when appropriate — we are Christians owing ultimately to revelation, not to reason. But let’s not make the Bible into an excuse for not really engaging with their queries in all their difficulty. (And let’s not be afraid to say we don’t know when we don’t!)

8) Consider the conversational context.

Context matters. It doesn’t have to be face to face across the table to be significant. “Many people told me their best conversations occurred in a car — where both people faced forward, rather than toward each other,” says Newman. “Perhaps the indirect eye contact posed less of a threat” (91). Maybe even sofas and recliners during a Thanksgiving Day football game, if the volume’s not ridiculous. Be mindful of the context, and seek to make yourself available for conversation while at family gatherings, rather than retreating always into activities or situations that are not conducive to substantive talk.

9) Know your particular family situation.

In some families, the gospel has been spoken time and again in the past to hard hearts, perhaps there has been a lack of grace in the speaking, and what is most needed is some unexpected relational rebuilding. Or maybe you’ve built and built and built the relationship and have never (or only rarely) clearly spoken the message of the gospel.

Let’s think and pray ahead of time as to what the need of hour is in our family, and as the gathering approaches pray toward what little steps we might take. And then let’s trust Jesus to give us the grace our hearts need, whether it’s grace for humbling ourselves enough to connect relationally or whether it’s courage enough to speak with grace and clarity.

10) Be hopeful.

God loves to convert the people we think are the least likely. Jesus is able to melt the hardest of hearts. Some who finished their lives among the greatest saints started as the worst of sinners.

Realistically, there could have been some cousin of the apostle Paul sitting around some prayer meeting centuries ago telling his fellow believers, “Hey, would you guys pray for my cousin Saul? I can’t think of anyone more lost. He hunts down followers of The Way and arrests them. Just last week, he was the guy who stood guard over the clothes of the people who killed our brother Stephen.” (53)

With God, all things are possible. Jesus has a history of conquering those most hostile to him. We have great reason to have great hope about gospel advance in our families, despite how dire and dark it may seem.

When We Fail

And when we fail — not if, but when — the place to return is Calvary’s tree. Our solace in failing to adequately share the gospel is the very gospel we seek to share. It is good to ache over our failures to love our families in gospel word and deed. But let’s not miss that as we reflect on our failures, we have all the more reason to marvel at God’s love for us.

Be astonished that his love is so lavish that he does not fail to love us, like we fail to love him and our families, and that he does so despite our recurrent flops in representing him well to our kin.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

Originally posted at DesiringGod.org. Used with permission.

 

 

Redeeming Our Offices

Today, we’re re-releasing Jeremy Writebol’s everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present via Kindle on Amazon.com. You can buy your digital copy with one click $6.49.

A Bad Day at the Office

Why is it that we so deeply despise going to work? What is it about the office that causes us to prefer calling in sick, staying in bed, or hiding out for months on end rather than be doing the very thing that God called us to do with his good creation in the first place? Maybe going into the office really was the curse of our dislocation. It seems that work really was the result of our crimes.

Scripture makes it plain in Genesis 2 that work was given to humanity and work was right. But instead of work as we know it, work initially was not about providing for our essential needs like food and shelter. For our first parents, work was art. It was labor to design, cultivate, and express dominion over the established place of God. It was an effort to put decorations and details on the first place of God.

Occasionally, there are projects that I get to spend time working on that are sheer pleasure. They do not provide food for my table or pay off the mortgage. Instead they are labors of love. Tonight my daughter interrupted my writing and asked me to assemble her new LEGO stables. Some 2,000 pieces (and many of them very tiny) and two hours later, we were done. It wasn't anything I was paid to do, but it was still work. And I loved it. This is what going to the office was originally about: forming, cultivating, and managing creatively what God had made. It was art.

Then came the dislocating break of our rebellion. We didn't want to be artists painting on God's canvas. We wanted to make our own canvas. With it came the curse that now plagues our work. Instead of having everything we needed for life, we had to labor to stay alive. Where we were once amply supplied by God, now we were forced to have our cake and eat it, too. We wanted to work independently from God and he allowed it. We have to work to stay alive. This is the daily reality of our rebellion and the curse.

The office lost all of its delight. We found productivity flittered away by thorns and thistles. The soil we needed to survive was dry, hard, and unyielding. Making an existence from day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck became our work, and that was where work lost all its art.

Maybe this is why no one feels like going to work in the morning. Mondays are synonymous with the death of our freedom, independence, and life. Work is death and no one likes it. We spend our youth preparing to work, our best years working away, and then end up dying from our work. As the preacher of Ecclesiastes wonders, "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?" (Ecc. 1:3). This is the blatant effect of our sin and the curse. The office is a den of death.

This is why my friends Bonnie and Brandon don't see the progress of patients recovering to complete health. It's the reason why the hours and hours Eric spends designing aircraft feel fruitless. It's why Andy works a job he doesn’t really desire so that he can put food on the table. It is why, although we seem to see developments in technology, science, politics, economics and the like, nothing seems to be getting better.

Work as Role or Identity?

Is there redemption for our offices? Although we believe in a gospel that saves our souls, could we imagine Christ redeeming our workplaces as well? Could there be salvation for the office too? Yes, but only if we look to the work of Christ. For so many, our work has transitioned itself from a role we were given to an identity we possess. Work became who we are instead of something we do.

Partner—GCD—450x300The proof of this is found when you meet someone new. Introduce yourself to someone you don't know and the likelihood of you identifying yourself by what you do is very high. Usually we start with our name (“I'm Jeremy”) followed by what we do (“I'm a pastor”). We weigh the value of our lives by our work. The important people are the ones with the great jobs, the large incomes, the high-yield, high-capacity productions. Those who achieve their vocational dreams are the great ones. Those who fail at attaining those degrees are just "working for the man." We live and die by our jobs and their perceived successes and failures.

That's why we need a relocation. Our identity must be shifted away from what we do to who we are. We must be redeemed from perverting our role as workers into our identity as workers.

I find it wonderful that Jesus didn't come with an identity-issue about his work. He knew who he was, the Son of God. He knew what his job was, to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45). He didn't have the two confused. And so he came, reminded of his identity by his Father (1:11) to do the work he was sent to do (1:15). He came to do the work we could not do. In substituting himself for us, he worked to fulfilled the Law at every point and win perfect righteousness for us. By standing in our place, he did the work of satisfying God's wrath and removing our sin by dying on the cross for us. In such, he glorified his father and accomplished the work he was sent to do (Jn. 17:5).

Jesus didn't take work away from us. He redeemed us from a life of finding our identity in our work. He didn't live, die, and rise to life again so that we could skip out on the office or marketplace. He lived, died, and arose to life again so that we would glorify him at our office, not worship our office. Instead of living to fulfill the identities we find in our work, Jesus gives us a new identity, his brothers and sisters, so that we can go to work, not to earn an identity but to rest from identity seeking. We go into the office as kingdom citizens to create, cultivate, develop, and design all that the King owns for the King's glory.

Who Are You Working For?

One of the most frustrating aspects of work, beyond the inefficiencies and futility of fruitless work, is the people we work for. Just as we struggle with deep authority issues in relationship with God, we continue to struggle with the authority issues we have with our employers and supervisors. Our bosses can be tyrants, ogres, and despots all in one eight-hour shift. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a decent boss, we still buckle, from time to time, under the difficulty of not always seeing eye-to-eye. We all have bad days with our superiors.

For Kingdom citizens, the presence of the King in our workplaces deeply alters the way we see our bosses. Paul calls Kingdom citizens to see their work in this light by calling servants to be obedient and submissive to their superiors as if they were serving the King himself (Col. 3:22-24). The renovated heart goes beyond just obedience as a people-pleaser, or giving appearance as such, and calls the citizens of the Kingdom to obey with sincerity while fearing the Lord.

My fighter-jet-engineering friend Randy told me one day of a meeting with his superiors. In the meeting over the design of the jet, his boss became rather irate and excessively direct about a particular portion of the jet's design. Randy was given clear directions that the design of the jet should in every way be "from scratch." It was as if his company wanted to be the Wright brothers all over again and invent flight, this time on the scale of a fighter jet. As Randy debated for particular design similarities, his boss became more and more indignant about the uniqueness of the design. As Randy listened and considered, he knew that he had a responsibility to obey his boss and honor Christ. It didn't make sense, but it was right. It was only later that he discovered his boss’s reasons and Randy ended up benefiting his company and business by his obedience.

This is the kind of renovating work the King does. He transforms his people from rebellious people-pleasers to sincere Kingdom-servants. Work is transformed by the way we work for the ones set in authority over us (1 Pt. 2:13-25).

Working Hard, Working Well

While obedience to our superiors is a kingdom value, is this all that a renovation of our work places brings about? Are we to just be dutiful drones at the jobs in which we take no delight? Does the gospel speak to what we spend our working lives doing? Is there a Kingdom renovation to be done with regard to occupations and vocations? Can a kingdom citizen find the art in their work once again?

Like the false dichotomy of the material and spiritual, bad religion created another dichotomy with regard to our work; sacred and secular. Those that worked jobs in the sacred realms of the church were the ones who worked within a higher calling. They had the blessing of God, treasure in heaven, and a trophy of accomplishing something that lasts for eternity to put on their mantle. For the bankers, butchers, and builders (also known as secular workers), there was the glib promise that one day they could go to heaven and maybe be a worship leader and really please God. However, their vocations and their work were sub-eternal and a less than great calling. What does God need with someone who can carve meat anyway? To this day, it's not too hard to find churches and Christians who still practically affirm this position.

But the Scriptures never affirm a sacred/secular vocational divide. Rather, the word of the King is that "whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord" (Col 3:23). Those three words, "whatever you do," are a major blow to any scared/secular mentality. In those words, the King affirms the unique occupations of Kingdom citizens. Whether it's banking, broadcasting, auto sales, brewing coffee, serving tables, or working at homemaking, the King authorizes his citizens to work well in what they do. He affirms the value of every occupation that cultivates, develops, and advances his authority in his Kingdom. This includes building bridges, teaching children, accounting financial assets, diagnosing physical diseases, and baking pies.

How is this so? How does the bakery become a Kingdom place? First, by the way in which we work. Paul says "whatever you do, do it heartily." There is a way in which Kingdom citizens work for the King. They, by their presence at their work, demonstrate God's nature. They reveal the God who worked hard at the creating of all things; a God who put his full wisdom and glory and creativity into play as he made all things. By the way they work, they show an industrious, productive, intelligent God. They show a God who didn't take short-cuts, who didn't get lazy on the job, and who didn't "phone it in" in his work of creation and redemption.

Second, they also show a Kingdom value in the trajectory of their work. They work "as for the Lord." Their work is aimed at pleasing the King himself. How does an aerospace engineer design planes for the Lord? By making the best planes he can. By using the wisdom and understanding and knowledge the King has gifted him with to understand the laws of nature and develop means by which the creation can be advanced to serve people. How does a baker make pies for the Lord? By baking in such a way that the King himself would enjoy her pies. By baking with a mind to serve her fellow humanity as they delight in the excellent tastes of the pie. They both please the Lord by being creative, honest, diligent, and excellent in their various occupations.

There is a further implication of the resurrection of Jesus here for us in our work. The resurrection of Jesus was his coronation and enthronement as King over all kings. Everything is being brought under subjection to him as King (Ps. 8:6, 1 Cor. 15:27). Our work, done in the name of the King and for the King is participating with him in bringing all things under his authority. The way we develop technology, or manage resources, or develop business strategies, or cook meals, or build houses, or any innumerable sorts of occupations are bringing all things under subjection to Christ. The computer programmer who develops software to advance communication can see himself as utilizing technology for the sake of the King and the advancement of his Kingdom. The doctor who develops wise and resourceful medical practices is bringing the field of medicine under the realm of the King when she does so to keep, preserve and enhance life. The teacher who works with fourth graders is bringing a classroom of students under the dominion of Christ, but educating her class about the physical and moral laws that govern the world in which we live in. All things are brought to rest under the Lordship of Christ as the resurrected King.

As such, the renovating work of the King brings us to our offices (or classrooms or kitchens or laboratories, or whatever we call the space we work in) to work hard and to work for him. He calls us into every sphere of life and vocation to develop and deploy our gifts to show His authority and dominion over all things. He must have workers in every vocation to demonstrate all things are for his glory, even the offices that we spend our days working in. By our work we display an ever-present King in every place.

Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.

Sent into the Harvest: Halloween on Mission

What if a crisp October wind blew through “the way we’ve always done things” at Halloween? What if the Spirit stirred in us a new perspective on October 31? What if dads led their households in a fresh approach to Halloween as Christians on mission? What if spreading a passion for God’s supremacy in all things included Halloween — that amalgamation of wickedness now the second-largest commercial holiday in the West?

Loving Others and Extending Grace

What if we didn’t think of ourselves as “in the world, but not of it,” but rather, as Jesus says in John 17, “not of the world, but sent into it”?

And what if that led us to move beyond our squabbles about whether or not we’re free to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, and the main issue became whether our enjoyment of Jesus and his victory over Satan and the powers of darkness might incline us to think less about our private enjoyments and more about how we might love others? What if we took Halloween captive — along with “every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5) — as an opportunity for gospel advance and bringing true joy to the unbelieving?

And what if those of us taking this fresh approach to Halloween recognized that Christians hold a variety of views about Halloween, and we gave grace to those who see the day differently than we do?

Without Naiveté or Retreat

What if we didn’t merely go with the societal flow and unwittingly float with the cultural tide into and out of yet another Halloween? What if we didn’t observe the day with the same naïveté as our unbelieving neighbors and coworkers?

And what if we didn’t overreact to such nonchalance by simply withdrawing? What if Halloween wasn’t a night when Christians retreated in disapproval, but an occasion for storming the gates of hell?

The Gospel Trick

What if we ran Halloween through the grid of the gospel and pondered whether there might be a third path beyond naïveté and retreat? What if we took the perspective that all of life, Halloween included, is an opportunity for gospel advance? What if we saw Halloween not as a retreat but as a kind of gospel trick — an occasion to extend Christ’s cause on precisely the night when Satan may feel his strongest?

What if we took to the offensive on Halloween? Isn’t this how our God loves to show himself mighty? Just when the devil has a good head of steam, God, like a skilled ninja, uses the adversary’s body weight against him. It’s Satan’s own inertia that drives the stake into his heart. Just like the cross. It’s a kind of divine “trick”: Precisely when the demonic community thinks for sure they have Jesus cornered, he delivers the deathblow. Wasn’t it a Halloween-like gathering of darkness and demonic festival at Golgotha, the place of the Skull, when the God-man “disarmed the powers and authorities [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” at the cross (Colossians 2:15)?

Marching on Hell

What if we were reminded that Jesus, our invincible hero, will soon crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20)? What if we really believed deep down that our Jesus has promised with absolute certainty, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). What if we realized that the gates-of-hell thing isn’t a picture of a defensive church straining to hold back the progressing Satanic legions, but rather an offensive church, on the move, advancing against the cowering, cornered kingdom of darkness? What if the church is the side building the siegeworks? What if the church is marching forward, and Jesus is leading his church on an aggressive campaign against the stationary and soon-to-collapse gates of hell? What if we didn’t let Halloween convince us for a minute that it’s otherwise?

What if Ephesians 6:12 reminded us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”? What if we remembered that it’s not our increasingly post-Christian society’s Halloween revelers who are our enemies, but that our real adversary is the one who has blinded them, and that we spite Satan as we rescue unbelievers with the word of the cross?

Resisting the Devil

What posture would Jesus have us take when we are told that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)? Naïveté? Retreat? Rather: “Resist him, firm in your faith” (verse 9). What if we had the gospel gall to trust Jesus for this promise: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)? And what if resistance meant not only holding our ground, but taking his?

What if we hallowed Jesus at Halloween by pursuing gospel advance and going lovingly on the attack? What if, like Martin Luther, we didn’t cower in fear, but saw October 31 as a chance to serve notice to the threshold of evil? What if we didn’t turn out our lights as if hiding, but left a flaming bag on the very doorstep of the King of Darkness himself?

Orienting on Others

What if we saw October 31 not merely as an occasion for asking self-oriented questions about our participation (whether we should or shouldn’t dress the kids up or carve pumpkins), but for pursuing others-oriented acts of love? What if we capitalized on the opportunity to take a step forward in an ongoing process of witnessing to our neighbors, co-workers, and extended families about who Jesus is and what he accomplished at Calvary for the wicked like us?

What if we resolved not to join the darkness by keeping our porch lights off? What if we didn’t deadbolt our doors, but handed out the best treats in the neighborhood as a faint echo of the kind of grace our Father extends to us sinners?

Giving the Good Candy

What if thinking evangelistically about Halloween didn’t mean dropping tracts into children’s bags, but the good candy — and seeing the evening as an opportunity to cultivate relationships with the unbelieving as part of an ongoing process in which we plainly identify with Jesus, get to know them well, and personally speak the good news of our Savior into their lives?

And what if we made sure to keep reminding ourselves that our supreme treasure isn’t our subjective zeal for the mission, but our Jesus and his objective accomplishment for us?

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. – Jesus in Matthew 9:37–38

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

Originally posted at DesiringGod.org. Used with permission.